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Requirement of larger councils to publish minutes, agendas and meeting papers of meetings

0 votes
The Transparency Code for Smaller Authorities (2014) says what information should be published by parish councils with a turnover of less than £25K per annum.
Is there an equivalent publication for parish councils with a turnover of more than £25K per annum? In particular is there a statutory requirement for larger parish/town councils to publish on their websites agendas and meeting papers in advance of meetings and minutes within a specified time after meetings?

by (1.7k points)

3 Answers

0 votes
There is no transparency code for councils with a turnover between £25k and £200k, although there is an expectation that they will comply with the requirements of the Smaller Authorities Code as a minimum. Sadly, they can't be forced to do so, and many councils use that as an excuse for not publishing anything.
by (41.2k points)
Thanks for this. Seems a big omission to me. As RoundAgainCoxn mentions below the ICO model publication scheme for parish councils goes some way to creating an obligation to publish the material I mention (also ICO Guide 'What should be published? Minutes and agendas'.)
0 votes

In terms of the minutes, there is a legal requirement under section 228 of the Local Government Act 1972 to make available to any elector the minutes of any meeting at any reasonable time of day. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1972/70/section/228?view=plain 

Any obstruction can result in a fine not exceeding £200 on conviction. 

Because of this, it's easier to just publish the minutes on the website rather than have the Parish Office bombarded with requests when "something of particular interest" is passed. And it avoids the Parish Office having to be open every day if you only have part-time/flexi-time staff.

NALC's Legal Topic Note 5E (last updated in November 2021, but the same wording can be found in the 2018 and 2016 versions) confirms that this includes the decisions taken in any "closed session" (i.e. excluding the public) part of the meeting. 

The meeting papers, if deemed confidential, should not be attached to the minutes. A reference should be made to them in the minutes though, such as "The Council considered the XYZ report before resolving the matter". I don't believe there is any requirement to attach any other papers even if not "confidential", although if they aren't confidential, there's no reason not to publish them and it shows a level of openness and transparency to publish them.

I also believe that there is a similar legal requirement to publish agendas for most meetings - Certainly Full and Committee meetings while Sub-Committee meetings and working groups are down to the terms of reference for those groupings. Ideally, they should be as open as possible for the public to witness, but if the Sub-Committee or working group is purely advisory in nature  (i.e. has no authority to spend money), then anything they "decide" is always brought back to a Committee (which is required to publish an agenda for meetings) to be discussed/reported anyway. If there's any delegated authority to spend money by a sub-committee or working group, it's best practice that typical Full Council rules should be applied to the terms of reference. This would mean publishing an agenda in a public place, giving the 3 clear days notice, holding the meeting in a suitable venue etc etc

by (290 points)
edited by
I asked to see a copy of the minutes of the June meeting of the Parish Council Planning Committee. These were "noted" at the subsequent full Parish Council in July. I was advised that under the Standing Orders there was no requirement to publish them until they had been "approved". As the July meeting of the Planning committee was not quorate, and there is no meeting in August, this is yet to happen. Accordingly I couldn't view them. How does this sit alongside the requirements of the Local Government Act?
That is, unfortunately correct. It is also the case for many small Parish Councils where they only meet a few times a year. What I believe is recommended in these situations is that the draft minutes are published within a month instead. This could be a bare-bones document that literally just lists the facts (i.e. Agenda item and resolutions made) rather than any details of any debate.

Failing that, you could ask any councillors on that committee who are sympathetic to your needs to call an extraordinary meeting of that committee? That could force the committees hand in to publishing the minutes. I believe it only takes two to request this of the chair of the committee - if it's not responded to in 7 days, the two can call a meeting, produce an agenda (which they must sign if your clerk is not sympathetic to the request) and if attended by one other, it should be quorate (depends on terms of reference for the committee).

It might also be worth checking out the terms of reference for the committee to see if an absent committee member can be substituted for another member of the Council to ensure that it's quorate? Typically, I think this is allowable unless explicitly denied in the terms of reference for the committee. It might be the case though that any substitute has to be given the three clear days notice (i.e. you couldn't just rock up to the committee meeting, essentially as a member of the public, and take a seat at the table).

If you're just looking for the result of a vote and it wasn't in a "closed session", there's no real reason not to tell you. You had a right to be there as would any member of the public. The fact that you wasn't shouldn't preclude you; if someone had taken an audio recording of the meeting, they'd be free to publish it and you'd have found out from that.
Hope that helps or gives some ideas!
0 votes
You could interpret the absence of a code which applies specifically to a council turnover between 25 - 200 k is a loophole (or failing) on the part of legislators rather than indication that no obligations apply.
If only there were a PC daft enough to try and avoid publication on the basis of poor legislation AND an elector interested enough to challenge AND an external audit process which was worth it’s salt.
Until either all of that comes together or there is a judicial ruling, we’re stuck in the middle….

Or are we?

The ICO model publication scheme for parish councils actually goes some way to closing the loop hole.
by (3.0k points)
Thanks for your reply to my questionn. I certainly do consider the current situation to be a loophole, altho' as you say the ICO publication does cover this to some extent.

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